Driven from a desire to make their growing collections and programs accessible to more people, in 1983 the J. Paul Getty Trust purchased more than 700 acres in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Selecting Richard Meier as architect for the Getty Center project plans evolved for a six-building campus that would bring together their programs and provide an architectural landmark for L.A.
Visiting the Getty Center is an experience that engages all the senses, and the excitement begins with the electric tram ride from the parking garage up to the hilltop campus. The brief ride is a visual treat with unfolding vistas of the campus above and the cityscape below.
The open expanse of the Getty Center’s Arrival Plaza is welcoming – full of sunlight, nature and art – and grand at the same time. Art, architecture, and gardens beckon you forward.
The Center’s main buildings rise along two intersecting ridges, providing an amazing vantage point from which to view the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Center houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from its beginnings to the present.
From the start, the Getty Center was imagined as a place in which gardens, and other outdoor spaces would be as integral to its overall character as the architecture. The exuberant gardens among the formal buildings bring the Center to life. Various plantings cast interesting shadows, bring fragrance to the scene, and add color to the palette of beige buildings.
The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center, a hot and arid zone, is unexpected. The plants are common in Southern California, but the composition of cactus, aloe, and succulents is exceptional. By using efficient irrigation techniques and more drought-tolerant plants the Getty has been able to cut water use by more than 30 percent.
The Central Garden is the creation of Robert Irwin, who called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” Visitors descend into the garden along a zigzagging walkway. Underfoot, coursing down a rocky bed, a stream interrupted by waterfalls flows. The stream, whose sound varies at each crossing of the path, finally cascades over a stepped stone wall into a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants.
One of my favorite features of the Central Garden are the parasols of bent industrial-steel bars overflowing with fuchsia bougainvillea. I love the inventiveness and whimsy in Robert Irwin’s Central Garden design – a living masterpiece.
There are plenty of places to eat, from elegant dining in the Restaurant, to casual meals, coffee, and snacks. And several shops… the Main Store is found just inside the Museum Entrance Hall and offers the widest offering of books, gifts, apparel, stationery, and jewelry, along with a selection of children’s books and toys.
We are enjoying our souvenir, Seeing the Getty Center and Gardens, a visual tour of the Center with beautiful color photographs, and enjoy lending it to friends who have yet to experience the Center.
The Center is open daily except for Monday. Admission is free; parking is $15 per car.
The Royal City of Alhambra sits proudly on a hill above Granada. It is known as one of the most important architectural structures of the Middle Ages in Spain and the finest example of Islamic architecture left in the western world. Visiting on a cool, rainy day at the end of January it held our attention for the entire afternoon.
Water, rare and precious in most of the Islamic world, was the purest symbol of life to the Moors. Coming from the deserts of the south, the Moors celebrated water and its abundance in their new home.
The Alhambra was once a city of a thousand people and covers an area of over 32 acres. Its enclosed by more than a mile of walls reinforced by thirty towers, many of which are in ruins.
The Generalife was a retreat where the monarchs of Granada could relax, away from the bustle of the court. Yet close enough to the palace to attend to any urgent matters that might arise.
The Alhambra’s Palacios Nazaries, the Moorish royal palace, was built mostly in the 14th century.
I read that space in the Alhambra is open, like in the desert. The Courtyard of the Lions isn’t a house with a garden, but a garden containing a house. Refreshing water flows from the mouths of the twelve white marble lions.
The Tree of Life crowns the line of inscriptions written around the wall. This type of plasterwork motif spreading downward from an apex is an allusion to the inverted tree that sustains the celestial bodies in the heavens and buries its roots in paradise.
After an amazing afternoon at the Alhambra, our brains totally saturated with history, our bodies damp and chilled, we return to our slice of history – Hotel Casa 1800 Granada. Located at the foot of the Alhambra, in a charming Old Granadian house from the XVII Century, we are ready for a siesta.
Originally a 10th century palace built for the Muslim governor, The Royal Alcazar (Real Alcazar), is still used today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in Seville. Retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended, as a residence of monarchs and heads of state, it is the oldest palace in Europe still in use.
Moorish architecture is a variation of Islamic architecture. There are many motifs, or repeated patterns, in Moorish architecture – different styles of arches, calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tiles.
Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, the Royal Alcazar consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. Within the walls and gardens you can experience the historical evolution of Seville.
Moorish architecture is named after the Moors, North African people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and many islands in the Western Mediterranean beginning in the 700s. The Moors controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years. The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East.
In Rick Steves Spain, you’ll find an inviting mix of cities and towns, including the lively cities of Barcelona and Sevilla, and the Andalucían countryside. We appreciated the self-guided walks through the castles, cathedrals, and villages – very helpful, informative, and fun!
During our travels in Portugal and Spain, I wrote other blog posts, click on each title below to view photos and read about our adventures:
The Real Maestranza bullring is a landmark in Seville and in Spanish bullfighting.
With its impressive Baroque facade, one of the bullring’s most unique features is the slightly oval shape of the ring. This 18th century arena can hold 14,000.
Above the matador’s entrance to the ring is seating for the Royal family.
Heading down to the stables… there are no bulls, horses, or bull fights this time of year.
The Chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Caridad, where matadors pray before entering the ring.
The Real Maestranza bullring has a small and interesting museum where we learned more about the world of bullfighting through the exhibitions of costumes, photographs, posters, and paintings. Our guide explained that bull fighting has historically been controversial in Spain, and was banned in Barcelona a few years ago.
Finishing up our tour early evening, we went for a walk around that area. Walking around Seville is a pleasure – a feast for the eyes.
Heading to Hotel Casa 1800 we catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Legend has it that when they tore down a mosque of brick in 1401, the Christians re-conquering Spain said, “We will build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Taking about a hundred years to build, it is the third largest church in Europe, and the largest Gothic church in the world.
The next morning we rise to sun, clear blue skies, and make our way to the Cathedral… take a stroll with us…
The tomb of Christopher Columbus is located inside the Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida. Originally installed in Havana, it was moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.
Harvest time in the Cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos (oranges).
Spectacular views as we make our way up the 308′ high Giralda (bell tower). There are no stairs but a gently sloping ramp which ends just below the belfry. It is one of the very few buildings of Islamic Spain left unscathed by Christian intervention, and it is said that the Castillian king, Ferdinand III, rode to the top of the bell tower on horseback on the day he entered Seville on horseback.
In the distance is the Real Maestranza, Seville’s historic bullring, which we will visit tomorrow…
Gourmet tapas bars are the current trend in Seville and plentiful in our Santa Cruz neighborhood. Young staff at the Hotel Casa 1800, where we are staying and highly recommend, suggest two tapas bars near the hotel – both delicious – and for paella the more traditional, Cuna-2 Restaurante.
La Azotea is a stylish, small restaurant, with good service and delicious food. Innovative and beautifully presented tapas are the norm. Our first night in Seville we are spoiled by their tapas… a beautiful roll of salmon tartare, grilled octopus on a potato puree, rice triangles filled with crayfish and cheese. We return another morning for a comforting american style breakfast of omelet, meats, bread (including gluten-free).
Our last night in Seville we dine at El Pasaje. Another gem for tapas, small and cozy with an outdoor terrace in the rear of the restaurant which is enclosed and heated for the winter. Another feast of tastes is enjoyed… artichokes with almonds and ham in a vinaigrette, octopus with rustic potatoes, grilled salmon with a tasty sauce, and chicken masala with black rice. We drink glasses of the house Rioja – inexpensive and delicious (most wines by the glass are 3 to 4 euros in Spain).
On the other end of the dining spectrum is Cuna-2. Housed in a four-story mansion designed by the great Ánibal Gonzalez. It’s been beautifully restored – a cool mix of old world beauty and ultra modern designer furniture that creates a uniquely stylish ambiance. Lovely tapas and traditional entrees like paella (which we enjoyed), are attractively presented in a number of pretty moorish tiled small dining areas flowing from a fountained central courtyard. Service was impeccable, friendly and informed. Their lovely roof terrace and cocktail bar would be a glorious in warmer weather.
Lisbon is described as a safe harbor – one of the remaining havens in Europe for sophisticated culture and relaxation in a time of tourist destinations. This time of year anyway, there are no parking lots full of tour buses, and reservations are easy to get or not needed. Walking miles each day around the city’s steep and often narrow streets has been a delight. Day and night we have felt very comfortable and safe exploring.
Few places in the world can pride themselves on maintaining the tradition and artistic use of tiles. Each group of “azulejos” (from the Arab word azzelij meaning small polished stone), as they are called in Portuguese, tell a story or portray a tradition. They are used to decorate interiors, whole facades of buildings, churches, and streets.
‘The best way to travel is to feel’ Pessoa wrote, ‘so feel everything in every possible way.’ Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888. The story is that apart from his high school years, which he spent in South Africa, he lived in Lisbon without a break, without taking public holidays, without traveling abroad. Instead inventing many lives (and cities) out of his own. Pessoa spent a lot of his time in cafes, where he wrote and drank a lot . He died in 1935, aged 47.
Strolling back to our hotel after dinner we come across the lookout that evaded us during the day… in the distance is the Castelo de Sao Jorge – tomorrow’s destination.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is near our one of our favorite food markets – Mercado da Ribeira.
Those of us who read the New York Times know Frank Bruni as an Op-Ed columnist; I had forgotten he was the restaurant critic of The Times from June 2004 to August 2009. Enjoy this thoughtful salute to his mother and musings on Ireland as he travels the country by car…
I went in mid-September, and I went mostly, truth be told, because it promised spectacular scenery, bountiful seafood and an infinity of pubs, which my traveling partner, Tom, was especially excited about. We covered as much of the country as we could in a week’s time, dipping into Cork as well as Dublin, logging over 700 road miles, lounging beside a lake in the southwest and ambling along a creek in the northwest.
But I also went for a sort of communion with, and investigation of, Mom, who died almost 16 years ago. It was like an adult version of that classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” except that I wasn’t a lost bird asking a kitten, a dog, a boat. I was a grown man asking a country.
Ireland has assumed a central place in poetry readers minds, due to Nobel Prize-winning poets, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Muldoon. Doing a little research for this article brought forth Dennis O’Driscoll. Well known in Ireland and Britain, it seems he is not widely read in the U.S. but considered by some one of the most interesting poets writing in English. I leave you with the first section of his poem – Weather Permitting.
by Dennis O’Driscoll
The August day you wake to takes you by surprise.
Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour.
A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage,
towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.
Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain.
Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard,
uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation
in the face of death, you contemplate winter
with something close to tenderness, the sprint
from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely
ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze
of boiler flues when thermostats are set.
You warm to those thoughts as you sit there,
brainstorming ways to keep the family amused,
plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand.
Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills?
In truth – manipulating toast crumbs backwards,
forwards at the unsteady table’s edge – you’d prefer
to return to your bed as if with some mild
ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves.
Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.
We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.
Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.
About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.
Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note: Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!
I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.
Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.
Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.
In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years. The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.
If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.
Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.
Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.
The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.
A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.
Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.
Attractions in and around Victoria:
Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
Different articles and books concerning India are crossing my path recently and bringing back many memories. January of 1997 I visited India with a group of 12 women. Our host was one of my social work professors – he taught us “group therapy” at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, but confessed to being terrified of the idea of leading 12 American women around his homeland of Southern India. For three weeks we traveled together from Chennai (then known as Madras), the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Kerala on the south-west coast. Sadly, I did not keep a written journal, fortunately my photos bring back many memories.
My professor generously planned several visits to his family’s homes. I remember at one uncle’s home during our first few days in Madras, there was a computer and we took turns writing one email each – to our husband, parents, whomever. In mine I distinctly recall telling Jay that the sights, sounds, and smells of India were all new. Comparable to no other place I had visited. An orgy for the senses!
Some other writer’s travel articles that I have enjoyed reading lately…
Traveling in Kerala is as easy and rewarding as a glide through its backwaters. In this excerpt from an article first published in Lonely Planet Magazine, are the highlights, from coconut palm-lined coasts to elephant and tiger reserves… A Perfect Trip to Kerala.
Traveling on an Indian train is a reason to travel all by itself. India’s rail network is one of the world’s most extensive and the prices are very reasonable… How to Book Trains in India.
And some books to read on your plane, train, or sofa…
In India Calling, author Anand Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.
Let’s end with a quote from Will Durant (American philosopher, 1885 to 1981) ~
India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.
The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.
The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.
If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.
Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.
This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!
Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center. She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products. She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.
LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.
Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.
Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish-style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.
As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!
Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.
Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.
Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and & jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.
As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”Author, Bill Bryson
To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:
Entering the Saturday Organic Farmers Market one of the first things we notice is an outdoor dining area under the shade trees filled with people eating. Then the aromas of tortillas and gorditas frying on the griddles. Two Mexican families are cooking and serving up a storm of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, and huaraches – their tables covered with earthy brown pottery pots of all sizes filled with beef in red mole, guacamole, lamb stew, chicken in green sauce, chorizo and egg, grilled onions, spinach, beans… we quickly decide that this is the place to have Saturday brunch.
Before or after filling your stomach there is the rest of the market to discover. A row of organic farmers selling their fresh vegetables – our weekly list includes avocados, kale, chard, tomatoes, cilantro, radishes, and a beautiful bag of mixed salad greens. Then there are the bakeries with delicious homemade desserts, breads, donuts, pastries, and pies. Other booths are selling natural skin care products made from distillations of cactus, wonderful small batch dark chocolates with ginger or orange, colorful embroidered pillow covers, rugs, and jewelry.
One of the food stands is Via Organica where they sell fresh organic eggs and other foodstuffs from their store. We visit Via Organica store during the week to restock on organic fresh vegetables, pick up freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. During our stay in San Miguel they had several viewings of the film, Food, Inc., which lifts the veil on the U.S. food industry, exposing how our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.
2 medium avocados
5 tablespoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey OR 6 dates, pitted and soaked (to soften, if necessary)
3 tablespoons coconut milk or water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
In a food processor or heavy-duty blender – puree avocados, cocoa powder, honey OR dates, coconut milk, vanilla extract and orange zest until smooth. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt. Serves two.
Surprisingly good and best made a day ahead so the flavors meld.
Gluten-free, dairy-free & vegan.
p.s. While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:
Oaxaca is another artful city in Mexico on our list to visit – read about the town, some of its culture, food, and nightlife from New York Times writer, Freda Moon…
WITH Oaxaca’s imposing Baroque churches, plant-filled courtyards and shady plazas perfect for people-watching, it’s tempting to see the city as a photogenic relic of Mexico’s colonial past. But Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states and a college town teeming with students, isn’t quaint or stagnant; it’s a small but dynamic city, still emerging economically from the social unrest that put it in the international spotlight, and crippled its tourism industry, in 2006. That uprising — a protest by striking teachers that was met with police violence and led to a protracted conflict — is now history, but its legacy is everywhere in a streetscape of politically inspired stencil art, which has turned adobe walls and concrete sidewalks into a public gallery. Combined with the city’s long-established studio art scene, a vibrant cafe culture, a mescal-fueled night life and one of Mexico’s most exciting regional cuisines, Oaxaca is as cosmopolitan as it is architecturally stunning.
San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.
Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.
Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.
The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.
The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.
To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.
This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.
Bluegrass, rolling hills, grazing horses… Kentucky is beautiful. At the entrance to downtown Lexington Gwen Reardon’s collection of sculptures in Thoroughbred Park greets us. The park is a tribute to the thoroughbred race horse, and features thirteen sculptures. Seven life-size bronze race horses and jockeys race toward an imaginary finish line, while in the adjacent park bronze broodmares and their foals graze.
Lexington, which is named for the initial battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, was founded in 1775. Lexington is a small city and easy to get around. We stayed in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton which is conveniently located on Richmond Road and just minutes from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Horse Park. Their renovated over-sized rooms feature king or two queen beds and each guestroom is furnished with Flat Screen HD TV. The young woman who checked us in was very friendly and helpful.
After a long day of driving from Maryland, we were hungry and tired. The young woman at the Hilton recommended a restaurant nearby – The Chop House. Jay still raves about the Chop House Pork Chop (bone-in, thick cut) and my filet mignon was tender and perfectly cooked. We both ordered the chopped salad which really hit the spot… crisp romaine lettuce, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, avocado – we chose the Santa Fe dressing – a ranch-like spicy dressing. And good news – The Chop House has a gluten-free menu!
Historically and today, downtown is the center of cultural life in Lexington. The restored 1887 Lexington Opera House features touring professional theater groups, Lexington Philharmonic concerts and other arts performances. Downtown is home to many of Lexington’s most popular and creative restaurants including A La Lucie on North Limestone. We walked by before they were open, but the reviews online are very positive. Asking the owner about a good coffee spot she suggested Third Street Stuff & Coffee. Not only did we enjoy a great cup of coffee (voted best cup of coffee in Lexington multiple times) the whole vibe is creativity… from the 3rd Street Stuff store inside to the fun embellishments on the outside patio, and mosaic on a back wall.
Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, as well as to Transylvania University, the oldest college established west of the Allegheny Mountains. For art lovers, the University of Kentucky Art Museum comes highly recommended and is home to many American works of art by acclaimed artists such as Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Louise Berliawsky Nevelson and Gilbert Charles Stuart.
A number of Lexingtonians have roots that go back generations. Kentucky writers, most notably Wendell Berry, draw deeply on this sense of place. The stunning Red River Gorge is located in eastern Kentucky (about 60 miles from Lexington) and home to 26,000 acres of untamed river, rock formations, historical sites, unusual vegetation and wildlife. Berry writes about the Gorge, revealing its corners and crevices, ridges and rapids. His words not only implore us to know more but to venture there ourselves. Infused with his very personal perspective and enhanced by the photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, The Unforeseen Wilderness draws the reader in to celebrate an extraordinary natural beauty and to better understand what threatens it.
The nickname for Kentucky is The Bluegrass State. Bluegrass is actually green – but in the spring bluegrass produces bluish-purple buds that give a rich blue cast to the grass when seen in large fields. The gentle rolling hills, and the highly fertile soil are good for growing pasture which makes for good horses.
To learn about the horses and have a chance to get up close, visit the Kentucky Horse Park. On a nice summer day the Horse Park is a beautiful green space to walk around and explore. You will see scores of horses in the fields and barns. Kids can take a pony ride, adults can ride a horse, or the whole family can take a spin on a carriage ride. It’s a working farm with fifty different breeds living on the park’s 1,200 acres.
Limestone makes for good horses and good whiskey. Millions of years in the making Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for Bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. As we leave Lexington to drive west towards Missouri we decide to detour onto the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and pay a visit to the Makers Mark Distillery outside of Loretto.
The history of bourbon begins in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. The Governor of Virginia at that time was Thomas Jefferson, and he offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky (then called Bourbon county) if they would build a permanent structure and raise “native corn”. No family could eat that much corn, and they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task, so it was turned into whiskey. Kentucky Bourbon is different from other types of whiskeys because of ingredients, aging, the pure limestone-rich water of Kentucky, and the Kentucky crafted American white oak barrels.
Production of Maker’s Mark started in 1954, after its originator, T. William “Bill” Samuels Sr., purchased the distillery known as “Burks’ Distillery” in Loretto, Kentucky for $35,000. The first bottle of Maker’s Mark was bottled in 1958 and featured the brand’s distinctive dipped red wax seal. The distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980, listed as “Burks’ Distillery”. It was the first distillery in America to be recognized, where the landmark buildings were in active use for distilling.
The tour of the distillery begins near the stonewalled creek that runs through the peaceful, landscaped grounds, where you’ll hear a brief history of the distillery. Its black buildings feature bright red shutters with a Maker’s Mark bottle cutout. Unlike larger distilleries’ 600-barrel-per-day production, Maker’s Mark crafts its bourbon in 19 barrel batches. This is a free tour and no reservations are needed. Tastings are given in the gift shop area at the end.
Located on the grounds of the Makers Mark Distillery is The Toll Gate Cafe, housed in a toll house built in the late 1800s. Completely remodeled, it has a pleasant atmosphere – historical photos on gray-toned walls trimmed with the traditional Maker’s Mark red. The menu has some bourbon-inspired recipes and we decide to share some bourbon BBQ which is delicious. The perfect ending to our visit and fortifying as we continue to Missouri.
Bourbon’s All-American Roar an article by Mickey Meece in the NY Times talks about the current trend in bourbon and rye and has the winning recipe for a great Manhattan.
Charles Cowdery’s book – Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey follows the trail of America whiskey-making from its 17th century origins up to the present day. In his book, readers discover the history of the American whiskey industry, how American whiskey is made and marketed, and the differences among various types of American whiskey. The many fascinating characters who have made American whiskey what it is today are introduced, and a complete tasting guide with 35 detailed product reviews is included.